Family vs. work? How to choose and not feel guilty

March 16, 2015, 3:30 PM UTC

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: If you’re a working mom — have you experienced workplace bias? If so, how do you respond? is written by Beth Fisher-Yoshida, director of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program at Columbia University.

In today’s society, I get a sense that working moms (like myself) feel guilty that they are not delivering their best at home, in the workplace, or both.

What induces these feelings of guilt and stress, you might ask? Well, think about those either/or situations you’ve encountered lately. If there is a deadline you need to reach, you may sacrifice getting home late from work instead of spending time with your children. Or, on the other hand, maybe your children are sick and you choose to stay home and attend to them, forcing you to neglect your work responsibilities.

One of the saddest, heart-wrenching moments of my early career was when my younger daughter had a sports day event at her school. I also had a work engagement that same day that I absolutely could not miss. I thought her father and grandmother attending would be sufficient. But, one of the activities was a mother-daughter race and since I was not there, her grandmother had to fill on. Words cannot express how devastated I felt that evening watching the video of her dragging her feet and appearing disappointed during this race. I had to deal with the fact that I made the choice to be at work, instead of with my daughter.

I have felt this devastation on many occasions, but I hope that when my children grow up they might actually view me as a role model as someone who managed both roles well in order to truly have it all. The bad news is that everyday we are making hard choices about where to spend our time and energy. In reality, there is no balance — it’s a constant juggle.

Workplace bias can hit hard, especially if you’re already feeling vulnerable about the choices you are making. So, what do you do?

First, determine if it is a violation of your rights. If so, don’t be afraid to go to HR – after all, that’s what they’re there for, right? But, if it’s not an HR issue, you should keep a few things in mind in order to overcome these struggles in the workplace:

· Own your choices and embrace the outcomes—decision-making is not an easy task.

· Identify your strengths and find ways to enact them—use them to your advantage.

· Be proud of the fact that you are a working mother—you have the best of both worlds.

· Understand that you cannot directly control other people’s thoughts and emotionsfocus on managing your own instead.

There are many ways to balance work and family. In my experience, I’ve found it helpful to frame this as a dilemma to manage, rather than a problem to solve. Imagine a ball rolling back and forth on a plank; one day it tips to the left, and the next day it tips to the right. Maybe this is the balance we should be striving for; keeping the ball rolling back and forth on the plank. After all, working mothers are fortunate enough to have access to both worlds.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: If you’re a working mom — have you experienced workplace bias? If so, how do you respond?

Your boss’s late-night emails: the one time you don’t have to respond by Dawn Zier, President and CEO of Nutrisystem.

Why women will always have to work harder than men by Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Market Mentor.

Female CEO: I won’t give up my career for my kids by Penny Herscher, CEO and president of FirstRain.

Why working dads need an apology, too by Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work.

Why working moms should never have to apologize by Jane Edison Stevenson vice chairman, board and CEO services at Korn Ferry.

Working moms: Stop pretending everything is perfect by Erica Galos Alioto, vice president of Local Sales at Yelp.

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